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November 10, 2021

The Basics of Teaching Motor Planning Skills

Motor planning skills help us perform body movements that we need for everyday tasks, like brushing our hair or catching a ball. Here’s what motor planning skills are, signs your child may be struggling with them, and how you can help.

Key takeaways:  

  • Motor planning involves your brain and muscles working together to produce movement. Motor planning skills are required to complete even the simplest of tasks, like brushing your teeth.
  • Babies are not born knowing how to motor plan. It’s a skill that improves with time and practice.
  • Some children struggle with these skills. There are certain conditions like ADD/ADHD, dyspraxia, or sensory processing disorders that can make motor planning difficult.
  • Motor planning issues can cause academic and social challenges.
  • You can work on motor planning skills with your child at home.
  • An occupational therapist can help your child improve their motor planning skills.

Motor planning, also known as praxis, is a skill that helps us remember and perform body movements to perform tasks. Motor planning skills assist us in virtually every task we do. They’re required to develop fine and gross motor skills. Activities such as brushing our teeth, washing our hair, skipping, or mopping all require motor planning.

In this article, we go into what motor planning skills are and give examples. We talk about why children might lack these skills or be delayed. We also present a solution, occupational therapy, for children struggling with motor planning. Let’s get started.

Motor planning isn’t a skill children are born knowing

Motor planning skills are not innate. They are acquired with time and practice. A child’s brain has to learn to communicate with their body and muscles, and slowly, the complexity of tasks they’re capable of increases until they become automatic.

Think about a baby who learns to walk. They don’t start off walking. First, they learn how to pull their head up, then roll over, scoot, crawl, and finally walk. These motor planning skills that tell them unconsciously how to move eventually become automatic; done without thinking. Children will continue building on these skills – walking becomes running or hopping and climbing, etc.

Some children struggle with motor planning skills

For movement to happen, a lot has to occur. During movement, the brain receives and gives feedback about the body’s actions. This feedback helps to make small performance-improving changes. Coordination improves with repetition. The movement becomes more efficient and effortless; eventually, the brain and body move together automatically.

A child with difficulty motor planning may:

  • Struggle to identify the steps needed to complete a task, and the correct order to do them in
  • Frequently bump into things due to a lack of spatial awareness
  • Fail to hit age-appropriate milestones, like hopping or kicking
  • Be slow to perform simple tasks
  • Have issues with handwriting
  • Struggle to learn new tasks
  • Struggle with consistency in performance
  • Appear uncoordinated and clumsy
  • Have poor hand-eye coordination
  • Lack timing and rhythm

Children that experience motor planning challenges have difficulty implementing the feedback their bodies provide. They may struggle to plan and organize movements required for age-appropriate motor skills. Since they’re not able to easily grasp the feedback, they may seem clumsy or uncoordinated, even if they’ve done the task before. This can affect their self-confidence and/or academics and social skills.

Certain conditions can cause or exacerbate these difficulties

Motor planning challenges are caused by poor neural connections in the brain and difficulty processing sensory information. Many things can contribute to struggles with motor planning. Developmental Coordination Disorder is the most common cause.

Other conditions that affect motor planning include:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD)
  • Sensory Processing Disorder
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

With the right help, children that have challenges with motor planning skills can improve. There are things parents can do at home to help their children progress. Occupational therapy is also a wonderful option.

How you can teach motor planning skills at home

There are some things you can do at home to help your child with motor planning. Be mindful of the fact that your child may already be struggling with their confidence due to their difficulties, so set goals that are easily attainable to help build confidence. You can start with simple tasks, such as holding a pencil properly if you’re working on handwriting, kicking a ball if you’re trying to improve hand-eye coordination, or standing on one foot if you’re working on skipping.

Fun physical activities can help strengthen a child’s gross motor skills naturally. Focus on exercises that increase their core strength and promote movement. Games such as “Simon Says” or a dance party where you and your child mimic each other’s dance moves can be helpful.

Puzzles can help children build fine motor skills. There are also many apps available, but electronics should be used in moderation. Handwriting exercises are helpful, and there are special pencil grips you can buy that help kids better hold writing utensils. There are many toys available for fine motor training. Using visual aids such as charts can also help your child remember the order of the steps required to do a task, such as handwashing or getting dressed.

How Occupational Therapy teaches motor planning skills

Occupational Therapy is beneficial for children who struggle with motor planning. Occupational Therapists are trained to evaluate tasks and pinpoint where exactly a child is experiencing difficulty. They can also help children learn the steps and sequences of tasks. With time and patience, demonstrations, and lots of practice, tasks children struggle with will become automatic processes. Working with an Occupational Therapist can be invaluable for your child.

Get support from a qualified Occupational Therapist in the Chicago area

Realizing your child is struggling with motor planning skills can be challenging, but recognize this is a skill, and like any skill, your child can improve! If he or she is struggling with motor planning, you can help them improve at Lumiere Children’s Therapy. We offer full-service pediatric Occupational Therapy, so your child can be as independent as possible.

We help kids develop form and functionality so they can complete tasks on their own. We teach and help improve:

  • Motor planning
  • Gross motor and fine motor delays
  • Body awareness
  • Coordination skills
  • Functional skills, such as stairs
  • Daily self-care skills
  • Handwriting
  • Visual-motor integration
  • Visual perception skills
  • Feeding
  • Social and peer interaction skills
  • Sensory processing
  • Strength and coordination
  • Early development with infants
  • Sensory processing

We also help children with specialized diagnoses, such as:

  • ASD
  • Sensory Processing Disorder
  • Developmental delays
  • Prematurity
  • Fine motor delay
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Brachial plexus injury
  • Down syndrome
  • Learning delays
  • Visual processing disorders
  • Motor incoordination
  • Chromosomal abnormalities

Lumiere Children’s Therapy also provides a host of other pediatric therapies to help children with a wide range of physical, emotional, and developmental conditions achieve traditional childhood milestones.

Our services include:

  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Developmental therapy
  • Social work
  • Early intervention
  • Augmentative alternative communication
  • Teletherapy

Lumiere Children’s Therapy is a full-service pediatric therapy practice located in Chicago. We focus on providing services catered to the developmental needs of children from birth to 18 years of age. Contact us to learn more about how our clinicians work diligently to improve the lives of the children and families they serve.

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